The World Health Organization is urging both the unvaccinated and vaccinated to keep wearing masks to prevent COVID outbreaks, and this week Los Angeles County health officials changed their policy to recommend the same guidance.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Good Morning America she’s standing by the current US guidance but that local health officials can and should make changes as needed.
“The W.H.O. really does have to make recommendations for an entire world where less than 15% of people are vaccinated,” she said. “It is very different than us here in the United States.”
Outside of public transportation, masks remain optional across most of North Texas.
“I think everybody is struggling with these decisions,” said Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious disease professor at UT Southwestern.
He points to an Associated Press review that found 99.2% of COVID deaths in May were people unvaccinated.
Those with both shots of an MRNA vaccine or with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are in the clear, but he says to remember unvaccinated kids aren’t at no risk.
“If you're taking them unmasked into kind of some of these same areas, they certainly are going to be at risk of getting it,” he said.
There are big differences across Texas.
At least 41% of the state is fully vaccinated, but in southeast Fort Worth’s 76105 zip code, it’s just 25%.
Rev. Ralph W. Emerson’s Rising Star Baptist church is in the heart of the zip code, which includes the city’s Stop Six neighborhood that has both large African American and Hispanic populations.
“The only barrier now is the mental battle,” he said. “It is not that we have not done marketing. It's not that we've not done any public relations work. We've done all of that.”
He’s tried to endorse the vaccine while preaching, talking to people on the street or at his barber shop. Emerson believes the hesitancy is less fear and more people unsure of the vaccine’s benefit.
“You have to decide, do you want to keep rolling the dice and hope, or at least want to get something that gives you some guarantee,” he said.
UT Southwestern’s latest COVID model predicts cases and hospitalizations will rise, especially around the early fall when schools and sports start back, unless the rate of vaccination increases or masking and distancing begin again.
“There is going to be, you know, regional or even kind of small pockets of areas that are likely to see surges or spikes in cases,” Cutrell said.
“This virus is an opportunist and in areas where we still have rates of low vaccination, that is where the virus is likely to take hold,” Walensky told Good Morning America.
The increase in deaths and suffering is preventable, but it’ll require reaching those still holding out.
“If you refuse to get the vaccine, then that means that you are offering a chance for your relatives, your friends, all to get the virus and pass away,” Emerson said. “It really is just making the decision to go get the vaccine.”